At the beginning of a new year, it’s hard to avoid the question: where are we going? What will our future be like? Does America, does freedom, does Western civilization even have a future?
I date my career as a professional writer to an op-ed I published in the Los Angeles Times in the early 1980s. I was a graduate student in English and was also teaching undergraduate composition courses. One of the challenges I faced in the classroom was this: when, in a search for possible topics for my students to write about, I brought up things that I thought of as falling under the category of general knowledge, I found over and over again that most of my students didn’t know what I was talking about. They didn’t know history. Their knowledge of politics, geography, art, and literature was, at best, extremely spotty.
Yes, a few of them were very well informed about some sport or other, or about this or that singer or rock group or actor or TV show, but there was not much overlap between one kid’s knowledge and another’s. There was, in fact, hardly any knowledge that they all shared – and these were students at what was considered a pretty decent college. So I wrote a piece about it.
Thirty years later, the situation is, by all accounts, even worse than it was then – not just in America, but across the Western world. And the problem isn’t just that they don’t know who wrote War and Peace. It’s that they don’t know basic things that could mean the difference in the future between war and peace, poverty and wealth, slavery and freedom.
In 2007, a study of Swedish young people by a group called Information about Communism revealed that ninety percent of Swedes between the ages of fifteen and twenty didn’t know which foreign capital is closest to Stockholm, and most didn’t know which countries border on their own.
Moreover, most of them had no idea what Communism is. Ninety percent didn’t know the meaning of the word “Gulag.” Forty percent thought that Communism had actually brought increased prosperity to the people living under it.
“They lack understanding of basic concepts such as dictatorship and democracy, and this is unpleasant,” said Camilla Andersson of Information about Communism. Swedish education minister Jan Björklund, asked about the study results, lamented “that Swedish history teaching is so limited.” But the problem, as I noted at the time, was not “limited” history teaching but slanted history teaching. Kids, not just in Sweden but throughout the Western world, are fed pretty lies about Communism and ugly lies about America, capitalism, and Western civilization generally.
A similar study, performed in 2008 by the think tank Civita, found that “two of three young Norwegians between 14 and 20 years old have not heard of Pol Pot and the Gulag,” while 34.5% thought that Communism had “contributed to increased prosperity in some places in the world.”
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